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Nextel kisses Flarion wireless broadband goodbye?

The Nextel-Sprint merger forces Flarion Technologies to look to Europe for business for its Flash OFDM standard.

The proposed sale of cell phone operator Nextel Communications to Sprint is forcing some drastic changes at Flarion Technologies, whose wireless Internet gear is fast enough to rival a cable operator's broadband technology.

U.S. cell phone operator Nextel said Thursday that it will continue to use Flarion's Flash OFDM (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing) equipment to deliver wireless broadband in Raleigh, N.C., until June, six months longer than the operator originally intended. After that, "we have no intentions of deploying Flarion" any further and the trial will end, Nextel Chief Operating Officer Tom Kelly said during a conference call to discuss Nextel's financial results.

The end of the trial is a consequence of Nextel's proposed merger with Sprint. A major question surrounding Sprint's deal to buy Nextel has been which of the two incompatible cell phone networks will prevail, which has bearing on how the new company will use its pricy bandwidth, or spectrum. In the past few weeks, it has become clear that the new cell phone powerhouse has a future dominated by Qualcomm's CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) standard, which is at the heart of Sprint's current wireless network and the wireless broadband infrastructure it's now adding.

Because Nextel is the only large U.S. carrier to use Flarion, Nextel's decision forces Flarion to look to Europe and Asia for new business, according to Ronny Haraldsvik, a Flarion spokesman. Over the last few weeks, Flarion, based in New Jersey, has been talking with major European operators T-Mobile, Vodafone and Telstra, Haraldsvik said.

Nextel insists Flarion's' equipment is still one of several options it's weighing. But Haraldsvik isn't optimistic. "Flarion could still be part of Nextel's plans, but with everything going on now, we don't expect them to take another look at us until 2007," he said.

Flarion's U.S. travails are a blow to its standard, Flash OFDM, which like rival standard WiMax allows data to wirelessly cross several miles at transfer rates of several megabits per second. Cable, telephone and cell phones operators are experimenting with such high-speed wireless connections to more cheaply expand into new areas, choosing wireless for especially for difficult terrain.